On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Since its inaugural season in 1996, D.C. United has won numerous trophies and built one of the most loyal fan bases in Major League Soccer. After hitting a rough patch in recent years, United has seen promising developments on and off the pitch: better results in competition, new ownership and (potentially) momentum towards a new home stadium. We talk with coach Ben Olsen and team president Kevin Payne about the future of pro soccer in the District.
- Ben Olsen Manager, D.C. United
- Kevin Payne President and Chief Executive Officer, D.C. United
MR. BEN OLSENFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When Ben Olsen made his debut with D.C. United in 1998, he joined one of major league soccer's most successful franchises, a team that won three championships in the league's first four years and the team that successfully tapped into the passions of soccer fans across Washington, immigrant communities from soccer-mad corners of the world and thriving amateur leagues across the suburbs.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut when Ben Olsen made his debut as D.C. United's head coach in 2010, he took over a team in something of a rut, a team that had stagnated on the pitch playing in an old somewhat rundown stadium. But some people think D.C. United is on the verge of turning a corner. This year's team is built around a reigning league MVP and two prospects who came up through Northern Virginia high schools and the team's own academy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe team also has new owners and new hope for a new stadium along the southeast waterfront. This hour we're exploring the future of pro soccer in D.C. with Ben Olsen. He is manager of D.C. United. From 1998 to 2009 he was one of the team's most decorated and popular players. He represented the U.S. national team in the 2000 Olympics and 2006 World Cup. Ben Olsen, glad to have you in studio. Thank you for joining us.
OLSENThank you very much.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Kevin Payne. He is president and CEO of D.C. United. Kevin Payne, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEVIN PAYNEKojo, nice to see you.
NNAMDIIf you're a follower of D.C. United or a soccer fan, how has American soccer culture, in your view, evolved over the last few years or decades? Call us at 800-433-8850. Send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a Tweet a kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org. if you have a question for Ben Olsen or Kevin Payne or a comment. Ben, Kevin Payne has often called you the heart and soul of D.C. United. Over the 12 years you played for the team you were one of the more decorated and popular players in team history. Now you're in the midst of your second full season as head coach of United. How does this experience compare on the sideline versus being on the pitch itself?
OLSENIt's a much different situation, that's for sure. I slept better as a player than I do as a coach. No, it's been a great transition. You know, it was a little bit uncomfortable at first. You know, I'm going from a player and friends of the players themselves and their families to now being their boss. And there's some uncomfortable moments that come along with that.
OLSENBut ultimately it's about the club. And I could sleep at night knowing that I tried to make the best decision for the organization. And at times it was uncomfortable but I'm certainly more comfortable in my own skin as a head coach now this year as I get my feet under me a little bit. And I think the team has reflected that.
NNAMDIWell, the team, yes. The fans, maybe even more. I'm looking at this picture. When you took over as interim coach you had the built-in advantage of a strong fan base standing and shouting on the other side of the pitch. I'm looking at this picture of the La Barra Brava, the very loud and very enthusiastic fan club. During a game in August of 2010 when they were holding this giant banner with your face superimposed over Rambo, and another two banners that read Olsen's Army. What was that experience like?
OLSENWell, I don't know if you can see now, I'm in no way built like Rambo. I'm the exact opposite. But the fans at D.C. United have always treated me with such respect. I owe them a lot and I wouldn't be here today without them. And they're a big part of the success of this club. Early they tasted a lot of success and we've gone through some tough times. And hopefully we're getting out of that and we can show them some trophies and success again.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk soccer. RFK stadium is not necessarily the newest most beautiful venue in professional sports. It's 51 years old showing its age but RFK does have its charms. And for most of D.C. United's history it's had a major home field advantage. One thing you guys have been talking about a lot is reclaiming home field. This season the team is 10, 7 and 3 but it has been very good at home. Why is that so important?
OLSENIt was a huge emphasis in the off season. And following into preseason we wanted to make sure that the people that paid their good money to come and watch us had some joy and some smiles on their faces. So we rededicated ourselves in particular at home to make sure we were taking care of RFK and making sure it's that fortress and we were winning games. Ultimately in this league, if you do that, if you take care of the games at home and are successful in your own building, then the playoffs will come. And the success and the post season will come as well.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about the future of pro soccer in D.C. The voice you just heard is Ben Olsen's. He is manager of D.C. United. From 1998 to 2009 he was one of the team's most decorated and popular players. Also joining us in studio is Kevin Payne, president and CEO of D.C. United.
NNAMDIKevin, from the beginning, D.C. United thrived not just because it fielded an incredible roster of players, Ben included, but also because it tapped into things that made this entire region unique, our many different immigrant communities, many of whom hail from, as I said earlier, soccer-mad countries, our thriving amateur soccer teams from kid's leagues up to the college power houses like the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia where Ben played.
NNAMDIRight now, major league soccer is thriving around the country and it seems like those same factors are front and center. Do you think that D.C. has a kind of unique soccer identity?
PAYNEI'm not sure how unique it is compared to other markets in the country, but we certainly have all the ingredients for a success. We have a huge index of youth soccer players. We have, as you said, a very robust international community. Our amateur soccer leagues are thriving and are engaged with us. So we have a lot of the things in place that should lead to success.
NNAMDIWe have a question from Francisco in Arlington, Va. for management I think, so that would be you. Francisco, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANCISCOThank you, gentlemen, for the chance to talk to you folks today. Let me summarize this way. I've been a soccer follower -- I'm from Brazil -- for about 50 years. In the '90s, D.C. United had a superb team. They were three times champion (unintelligible) . And I can say safe that they were the best in the world at the time. But I don't think the people here knew about this. But even as (unintelligible) the team would not go overseas to compete. So it's a very provincial way of doing business. They just would not go overseas.
FRANCISCOAnd everybody said, why don't they go to tournaments in other parts of the world? They wouldn't go for any reason. Now my final comment is there is plenty of talent in the United States as far as soccer goes. What we need is creative coaches and bold management that are willing to take the teams outside of the U.S. (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, it certainly seems, Francisco, that MLS is deeply involved in the global soccer environment these days, but I'll have Kevin Payne respond.
PAYNEWell, first of all, we're the only team in major league soccer that ever has competed in an official South American tournament. We've competed twice in Copa Sudamericana, and in fact played in Chile home and away against Catolica. It's very difficult though for our league to compete in things like Copa Libertadores because of the distances involved and the fact that our schedule is roughly the reverse of the rest of the world. We play through the summer and take off in the winter and most of the -- the rest of the world has almost a mirror schedule from ours. So it just makes it logistically virtually impossible.
PAYNEWe would all love to compete in more international tournaments, but it's difficult.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Francisco. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think about Washington's soccer culture? You can send email to email@example.com. Ben, many athletes and coaches never really put down roots in the cities that they play in, but you have lived here in D.C. Proper for many years. You consider yourself a local. For many people, D.C. United is part of that local identity. Do you see yourself as a part of that fabric and does that mean you have some kind of responsibility?
OLSENI feel like I do. You know, I love living in the city here. I love the city life. I want my children to be raised in the confines of wonderful people and what this great city has to offer. So I do feel a responsibility as a resident now of D.C. to have D.C. residence, again, enjoy our team and have success with the team.
OLSENI also have a huge responsibility to this club. This club has looked after me since the day I got here 13 years ago and they've stood by me. I've had good times, but I've had a lot of bad times here, too, with injuries and things where it would've been easy for Kevin and upper management to throw me out the window and...
NNAMDIGet some new ankles, please.
OLSENYeah, we're paying this guy to do what? So, you know, they've stuck by me so I have a huge responsibility to them and this club as well. So you add those two things together, I've got a big burden. Yeah, but it's a great thing to have.
NNAMDIIt's a great thing to have the star and now the manager of a team living in the city, but Kevin, the team's model is win championships, serve the community. What does that mean?
PAYNEWell, right from the beginning, we felt that -- I've always felt that sports teams have a very unique opportunity to be positive influences in their community. In my view, because they have that opportunity, they have a responsibility to take advantage of that. So we felt really from the beginning -- and that mission statement was developed before when we had two employees, it was Steven Zach and me. And that has been drilled into everybody that comes into our organization from the beginning. It's a big part of our culture. We think it's very important to give back to the community, and particularly children.
PAYNEYou know, we named our team D.C. United for a reason. We weren't just trying to rip off Manchester United. The idea was that we could be a place where people who would not otherwise have contact with one another would come together. And when you come to our games you see that. And we named our team D.C. because people who live here don't refer to it as Washington.
NNAMDIAnd here's the proof of the pudding, I guess. We got a Tweet from someone who says, "I moved to D.C. in 2008. Like many transients, I didn't feel close to community. D.C. United fixed that. It's my gateway to being a Washingtonian." You hear that a lot, Ben?
OLSENAbsolutely. There's a real soccer culture here and particularly with our fans. They're -- they come and they really have a solidarity about them with their tailgating and also their work in the community as well. They do a whole bunch of things in the community of helping out and being involved in not only the soccer community but the D.C. community itself. So I do hear that a lot.
NNAMDIThe league itself has had ups and downs over the last 16 or 17 years, Kevin. But by almost any standard MLS is on the upswing. Last year attendance grew 7 percent around the league, which is more than the NBA and the NHL draw 17,862 per game. But many of the 19 teams in the league play in beautiful new soccer-specific stadiums. How important is it that D.C. United move to a new facility?
PAYNEWell, it's absolutely vital. It has to happen. We can't -- we're not a sustainable business at RFK. And -- but it will happen. I'm absolutely convinced of that that we will end up with a home that's appropriate for our team and our fans. And I think that we'll enter a new renaissance at that time. Right now it's difficult for us to compete with some of the other teams in the league because we just don't have the revenue opportunities at RFK. I think in a new building we will.
NNAMDIWe have two callers who would like to talk about that. First, Oliver in Silver Spring, Md. Oliver, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OLIVERThank you. My comment has to be the fact that D.C. has been trying to stay in the District with their own stadium. But the city is either unwilling or unable to help pay for the cost. And Baltimore has gone and done the drawing of a possible stadium the team could use. It's all ready. It's a matter of the team deciding to go to Baltimore, which is in the outskirts facing D.C. So it wouldn't be a difficult thing to drive up there, those who are a fan of the team.
OLIVERAnd I think that their location and all the drawings that Baltimore has done is by far more advanced than what the District has done.
NNAMDINot that we don't love Charm City but a lot of people were offended by the idea of a Baltimore United. But here is Kevin.
PAYNEWell, we are talking to Baltimore and we're talking to D.C. I think that people need to remember that 2008, 2009, 2010 we were all struggling with a global financial collapse, the fallout and hangover from which, you know, continues today. So it wasn't the easiest time to be having conversations about a public private partnership with the District. We are having very good conversations with the District now and I feel very encouraged.
PAYNEAt the same time we've been treated very respectfully by Baltimore and by the Maryland Stadium Authority. And we're having serious conversations with them as well. Our position is that we need to have a new stadium. And for our business that's something that has to happen.
NNAMDIOliver, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, you can still join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What do you think about the prospects for a new soccer-only stadium right here in Southeast Washington? 800-433-8850. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about pro soccer in D.C. and its future with Kevin Payne, president and CEO of D.C. United, which, by the way, will be taking on the Columbus crew Saturday evening at 7:30, and Ben Olsen, manager of D.C. United. You remember him as a player from 1998 to 2009. He also represented the U.S. national team in the 2000 Olympics and 2006 World Cup.
NNAMDIKevin, over the years, the quest for a new stadium has been stalled, as you mentioned, by a whole host of factors, including some uncertainty in the owner's suite. But last month, the team unveiled a new team of investors. Who are the new owners and what do you feel they mean for the team?
PAYNEWell, Will Chang remains as a significant, although minority partner in the ownership group. The new owners are Jason Levien and Erick Thohir. Jason is a businessman from New York who actually has a lot of D.C. ties. Went to Georgetown, practiced law at Williams and Connelly and still owns a home in D.C. Jason has a lot of sports background. He was a sports agent. He worked with the Maloof brothers who owned the Sacramento Kings.
PAYNEErick is part of a really dynastic family in Indonesia, one of the most prominent families in that part of the world. Erick himself has created a whole new business for the family that's based around media. So his businesses are primarily electronic media, also some newspapers, and particularly digital media. So he's a young man. He's a very big thinker. He brings a whole different perspective to our team. We now have the resources, I think, to do the things that we have to do to once again become, we hope, the dominant team in major league soccer.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Bob in Arlington, Va. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThanks, Kojo. Just wanted to say -- well, first, Ben, great article in The Post the other day and good job against Chelsea. I was born in Harrisburg and raised in York so I...
BOB...really identify with a lot of it. I'm also a recent retired and long serving member of the board of directors of the Arlington Soccer Association, and a long time member of the Screaming Eagles. So -- and I've worked closely with the team on a lot of different things and really appreciate how active they are in the community and how accessible they are especially to young soccer players.
BOBNow my concern is about the role of money in sports in general but -- and the major concern obviously is with D.C. United and with soccer. And with this infusion of cash and new investors and the possibility of a new stadium and everything and sort of keeping in mind, you know, be careful what you wish for sort of things that, you know, is it sort of a given that the more money that goes into sports that the farther away from the community they get?
BOBI mean, I'm looking at major league baseball and the NFL and everything and how sort of far away from sort of the average person those teams are and those players and everything and how close D.C. United is. I mean, I'm thinking -- even thinking of the reserve match this upcoming Sunday that's free to the public and everything. Is any of that going to stop in the sort of trying to, you know, milk more out of folks or anything?
NNAMDIHow fan friendly and how much will people be able -- how many people will be able to continue to afford to be fans of D.C. United, Kevin?
PAYNEWell, I really -- you know, we certainly hope that we never get to the point that we lose touch with our fans or that we become such an arm's length transaction that it's no different than any other commodity that people buy. We certainly intend to maintain our commitment to the community -- our deep, deep commitment to the community in every way. And Ben can talk about it from the point of view of players. But I do believe that some of this is a function of the culture of the sport.
PAYNEYou know, the hockey players in the Washington Capitals, for instance, are well paid. But there are a number of them that are pretty connected to their community and do things on a regular basis and are pretty regular guys. I would certainly hope that even if we get to a point where we're paying players a great deal more money than we are today that they would understand that they still have an obligation to be part of their community. And Ben may have a...
OLSENNo. I just think, you know, just knowing management, they're only going to put people in spots of management that have those values -- the community values close to their hearts. So I don't think that can happen, not with D.C. United.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bob. We now move on to Louis in Washington, D.C. Louis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LOUISAwesome. I just want to say thank you, first of all, for allowing me to ask this question to the awesome Ben Olsen and Kevin Payne. I just had a quick question. Now, you know, all the excitement of new owners coming into play. I know our focus before was basically pushing to the playoffs. And, you know, lord willing, getting their fifth cup. But has the focus changed just towards the stadium or is there something that divided between I would say management and, you know, the coach and the team, two focuses there? Or is it just -- you know, how is it that you're handling now looking at it from this point on?
NNAMDIWell, allow me, Louis, to put more specificity...
LOUISThank you, sir.
NNAMDI...to what you discuss because we got an email from Germane who said, "Recently our rival New York Red Bulls have acquired major international players and supplemented them with strong league acquisitions. Are there any plans in the near future to make our strong roster comparable to New York or L.A.'s star studded roster?" I guess it's worth noting that bringing in so called designated players like Thierry Henry doesn't guarantee you a championship, Ben.
OLSENNo, it doesn't. And in our league, David Beckham's the only DP big money guy who has had that success on the field. We would like to bring in better talent, that's for sure. And better talent costs a lot of money. And now that the resources are there I think we'll be available to do that. But it's got to be the right guy and it's got to be the right time for this club. And we won't rush it. We'll continue to build with the group we have or a group which we believe in. And when that player comes -- when the right player comes we'll jump on it and make our team that much better.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Kevin.
PAYNEI'm sorry, Kojo. I just wanted to add that we actually have a plan of how we want to go about this. And that plan was developed with Ben and with Dave Kasper our General Manager. And the idea is to progress through stages, not try to become an overnight success. This year in particular was about developing a foundation and bringing our young players together and teaching them how to win. We think we have, on any given day, absolutely as good a team on the field as New York or L.A.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
PAYNENo. And when the time is right we'll look to buttress that with perhaps a big name international star. But it was more about creating the right kind of culture in a locker room. Ben's done a great job of that, taking back RFK and teaching our young players what it means to compete day in and day out and put themselves in a position to win another championship.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Louis. We'll go back to -- we'll go to Chad in Washington, D.C. Chad, your turn.
CHADYeah, this question goes back to the issue of a new stadium. And I wonder if there had been any talk with the city about just tearing down RFK and rebuilding right there? Because it's a nice spot with the train line right there. It's an easy location for people outside of the city and inside of the city to get to. And I would like to see the United stay in D.C. So, I mean, has there been talk about (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, Chad, right now you should know that we've been hearing a lot about a possible facility at Buzzard's Point near the national stadium. So Kevin, you might want to address both Chad's question and talk about where those plans stand.
PAYNEYeah, Chad, that's a question we get asked a lot. It would be very complicated to tear down RFK. First of all, it's very costly for any stadium structure to be torn down. It's more complicated in the case of RFK because of its name. There are many people in Washington D.C. who see it as a monument, as much as they see it as a sports facility. So it's a very complicated issue and it's not one that we've ever really explored very seriously. And I don't think that it's something that is in our future.
PAYNEThe Buzzard Point site is one that we have discussed with the city and it makes a great deal of sense from an urban planning standpoint. A lot of money has been invested in infrastructure to support the baseball stadium. there's tremendous growth happening. And the Buzzard point site would cross South Capitol Street and begin to link the whole waterfront. There's a lot of exciting things happening in the vicinity of the southwest waterfront. The arena stage has been an unbelievable new addition to that part of D.C.
PAYNEAnd we think that a stadium in the vicinity of the baseball stadium but on the west side of South Capitol Street will really help to link the whole riverfront.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Chad. You too can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. What do you think about the future of professional soccer in Washington, D.C.? 800-433-8850. The 2012 team has a core of experienced players, Ben, including two all stars, Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius. But two of the standout players are actually products of local high schools in the team's player academy. One of those players 19-year-old Andy Najar is representing the Honduras soccer team at the Olympics which advanced to the quarterfinals yesterday.
NNAMDIBen you've played in the Olympics yourself. What kind of pressures is Andy Najar facing right now and what kind of pressures are you feeling as you watch him play?
OLSENYeah, yeah. That's true. I do still root for him and I view Andy -- well, I think we all view Andy as part of our family at D.C. -- as part of D.C. United. And so much that he wears my number for D.C. United. He's doing a great job. The team's doing a good job. There's a lot of pressure there. It's a big stage and he's also -- he's young. He's still a young guy even for the Olympics. So you add that on. He's going through a lot of emotions but I think he's doing very well. His team's doing well. they've advanced. They've got a pretty tough matchup against a team called Brazil. And hopefully they can get a little luck in that game and continue going.
OLSENYou know, I could use him here.
NNAMDII was about to say, what's the difference between when you're playing, as you pointed out, you slept better at night when you played. Now that you're managing you have to watch your players playing in the international arena, on the one hand, you want them to do well. On the other, sometimes they're playing against the United States. And on the third hand, if you will, sometimes you're worrying about whether or not they'll get injured.
OLSENYeah, all three of those at the same time. It's -- you know, I'm rooting for him. Ultimately you have those other things on your mind but at the end of the day, I've been to the Olympics. It was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. And I hope he has that because I know he'll have that for the rest of his life. And he's a great young man, but he'll be back soon.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of local products, we got an email from Donna who said, "Whenever I hear Ben Olsen's name, I think local boy makes good. I remember when Ben played soccer in Central Pennsylvania at the same time our son played soccer. It was a time when soccer was just becoming a popular sport, those times when football was considered the only real man's sport. I also remember the day when our son's coach Chris Brockman told the team that Ben had received a college scholarship. Congratulations, Ben. You make soccer fans very proud."
NNAMDIAnd, Kevin Payne, Andy Najar was born in Honduras. He came to this country as a teenager, went up through the D.C. United academy system. And now there's speculation that a number of teams in the English Premier League may soon try to snatch him up. In some ways his story says a lot about the global story of modern soccer and the ways international forces have ended up influencing the game in the MLS, doesn't it?
PAYNEWell, ours, of course, is the most international of sports and it is a world market for players and we understand that. Andy built a new life for himself and his family here in Washington D.C. I think we all recognize though that the day may come where Andy will move on. We'll see. But when that opportunity comes we'll spend time with Andy and with his representatives and try to make sure that ultimately the decision that is made is the best one for Andy.
PAYNEWe all feel very paternal toward Andy because he was so young when he started with us and he's come such a long way. But, you know, there will be a lot of opportunities and he will need to make sure that he picks the right one.
NNAMDIBut it says a great deal about the academy and about MLS today that teams from the English Premier League are looking at your players even as they're coming up in your system.
PAYNEWell, the academies that have been developed now across the country -- every major league soccer team has one -- but there's another 60 academies in the National Academy League. And the whole purpose of this is to develop players. It's a completely different philosophy than we've had traditionally in youth soccer in America and it's already paying dividends.
PAYNEIn our case, the man who runs our academy, one of the assistant coaches on our staff, is a gentleman named Sonny Silooy who comes out of the IAX Academy, one of their more prominent graduates played for Johan Cruyff, played 75 times for Holland, over 350 times for IAX. And actually has a locker room at the IAX Youth Academy named for him. So he understands how this process works and it's something that we and our league are incredibly dedicated to right now. It's a big, big effort for us.
NNAMDIBefore I go back to the phones, there's something about this process though that I think people need to understand because within college basketball and football there's a long simmering debate about the balance between academics and athletics. And so a lot of NBA or NFL bound players never graduate from college. But when a major league soccer team signs young prospects, it often uses a venture called generation Addidas contracts which plucks kids early from college, but also guarantees scholarships to kids if their pro careers don't work out. Can you explain how that works?
PAYNEWell, even if they're college -- even if their pro careers do work out. So actually that program originally was called Project 40. And the man here to my left was the very first recipient of a Project 40 contract...
NNAMDIFirst class, yeah.
PAYNE...in league history. It's always been something that we're sensitive to. The issues are that college soccer is a challenging environment from a player development standpoint only because the college coaches are ham struck. They're not permitted to train sufficient number of days. For the players themselves just don't get enough training time. In many cases now for young promising players they make the choice to forego college. We want to ensure that they still can go to college. They just might not be able to play college soccer.
NNAMDIWell, Ben, you were the youngest person ever named head coach and you're not that far removed from your own playing days, as you mentioned earlier, and your own experience coming up through the ranks. How has that system evolved since you were a kid or a teenager prospect? What kind of lessons do you try to hammer home for these young players like Andy?
OLSENWell, it's come a long way, but it needs to go a long way, you know. I grew up, I couldn't even watch a soccer game on television. You couldn't find it in this country, let alone central Pennsylvania. So it has come a long way. Visually they get to experience a lot more. They get to idolize players, which I think is a big part of this. They see high-level soccer. The training methods are much more cultured now in America, but again, we have so much further to go as far as the way we teach we teach our kids, emphasis on technique and playing rather than winning, and that's something I think we're getting to as a culture, and that recipe will ultimately get us to start to produce world power soccer players. We haven't done that, and there's a reason for it.
NNAMDIHere is Alex in Rockville, Md. Alex, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXHi, Kojo. Hi, Ben. Hi, Kevin. Ben, I just had a quick question for you. I was wondering, as a player and in your more recent times as a coach and manager of DC United, has there been anyone who's influenced you particularly in the you manage DC United?
OLSENYeah. I draw from all of the coaches that have, you know, that I've been fortunate enough to come across throughout my years. You know, I don't think it's any secret that Bruce Arena probably had the most influence on me as a coach, but -- so, you know, I also have my own style, you know. So I take a little bit of all of them and mix it in with me and, you know, and I continue to learn on the job, but it's -- I've been very, very lucky not only to have great coaches throughout my career, but when I was a young player I was influenced by great players.
OLSENWhen I first came to this club, I had guys like John Harkes and Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Jeff Agoos, Richie Williams. I mean, I had an unbelievable amount of not only talent, but professional athletes that knew how to win and knew what it took to win championships. I could learn from that, and I was a young sponge, so I take it from coaches, and I also take it from former players.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Alex. Andrew in Bethesda, one more call on this stadium. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWYes. Thanks guys, for giving me a second here. Really quickly, I was a huge -- and still am a DC United fan, but, you know, back in the day when the first team first came out I, you know, bought season tickets I think like a lot of folks, and over the years, you know, the stadium and just kind of the venue of RFK really has, I think, worn on a lot of people. You know, not that they don't love the team, but just kind of schlepping down there and, you know, going to a really old venue is just not something you want to invest your time in.
ANDREWSo, you know, obviously the new stadium is, I think, imperative to DC United's success, and I just was trying to get an idea of, you know, when you all realistically think, and I'm sure this is a loaded question, but the timing of all this is going to happen, and trying to get a new stadium for our city.
NNAMDIAndrew's trying to make plans, Kevin.
PAYNEOkay. I think that -- well, certainly our hope is that before this year is out we will have some clarity of a stadium plan. We certainly think that it's feasible that we could get underway with a stadium construction project sometime next year. Now, that's going to require things to fall into place either in D.C. or in Maryland. The timetable's not really different in either location. The process is different, but the time table is not necessarily different. So if you ask me as a fan, you know, I hope that we could be in a stadium in 2015. I'm not making any promises, but that certainly is something that we would love to shoot for.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Andrew. It could happen quicker if a certain political development takes place. We got a tweet from Erin who made reference to Ben Olsen. "The intelligent person's hypothetical mayoral candidate here in D.C." Ben, are you willing to say now whether you're going to run for mayor or not?
OLSENI've got way too may skeletons in my closet to be in that world.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your tweet. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on the future of pro soccer in D.C. You can still call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the future of pro soccer in D.C. We're talking with Ben Olsen. He is manager of DC United. He played for the team from 1998 to 2009, one of its most decorated and popular players who represented the U.S. national team in the 2000 Olympics, and 2006 World Cup. Joining him in studio is Kevin Payne, who is president and CEO of DC United. I want to get back directly to the phones. Here is Aki (sp?) in Riverdale, Md. Aki, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AKIHi, Kojo. Hi, coach. Just want to call and -- I've been a fan of DC United for a long time. That's one of the best soccer moments is a game against Chicago when (word?) was playing at RFK. They were leading two to one, and at the dead of like the last minute, Coach, I think it was you, you scored like -- DC United scored two goals and ended up winning. That was just like of the best moments in soccer. I just wanted to share that with you.
AKIAnd congratulations, Coach.
OLSENThank you. It was a great moment for me. I watch that game at least twice a day. That was one of the few games I actually scored a goal. But no. It was a great team that year, and it was day. I remember it, thanks.
NNAMDIAki -- people always remember their favorite moments in sports. Aki, thank you for your call. You too can call 800-433-8850. A couple of weeks ago I read an interesting profile Dwayne De Rosaria, the reigning MLS MVP. The article explained one way a 34-year-old manages to stay in a game with kids 10 and 15 his junior. He has a laser-like focus on eating healthy, and I couldn't help starting when I read in the article that his favorite dish that his mother cooks for him is something called (word?) . I knew that that dish is unique to one county in the world, Guyana, where I happen to be from.
NNAMDIIt was only then that I realized that Dwayne De Rosario's parents were from Guyana, even though he himself was born in Canada, so I had to mention that connection, Kevin Payne.
PAYNEWell, actually Dwayne was the last person I saw when we were leaving the stadium to come over here today, and I mentioned that we were going to be on the air with you, and he extends a personal invitation -- he would love to meet you. Please come to the stadium some day, and you can talk Guyanan recipes.
NNAMDIDwayne, I'm there. Maybe we'll have you on on a Food Wednesday where we can talk recipes, because it's my understanding that you have a lot of them. Ben, I'd like to talk a little bit about the toll that this game takes on your body. One of your all-star players, Chris Pontius, is returning this year from a broken leg, and if there was one person who can commiserate with him about the challenges of recovering from a leg injury, it would be you, since in your career you had a number of threatening ankle injuries. What do you tell your players when they're trying to recover from the many aches and pains of the sport?
OLSENIt's tough. You really have to stay in it mentally, and you're not part of the team. That's the toughest part about being injured. You're there, and you show up every day, but if you're not the field competing with the players, you just don't feel fulfilled, and that's a tough part mentally to deal with. You also have to adapt. I had to adapt because physically I wasn't the same. I was a young spy energizer bunny, and five surgeries hit me and all of a sudden I couldn't get from A to B as quick, so I had to use my brain a little bit more, which ultimately I think helped me over the long haul that I had to, you know, use my brain a little bit more than I did as a youngster, so I adapted.
OLSENSo I guess adapting, and just staying in there mentally. It's not a, you know, you're still getting paid, right? People say, oh, you're still getting paid, you're injured, you know. There's a certain self-worth you lose when you're out for that long, and I'm very sympathetic to guys that are out for that long. I know there's a lot of guys that deal with some of the depression and things like that. So it's important for them to, again, just stay in it, and if the injuries are too bad, to adapt.
NNAMDIOnto telephones again. Here is Chris in Arlington, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISKojo, thank you very much for having me, and I'm always amazed at the breadth of shows that you have. This is a great show today, so thank you.
CHRISI'm curious to know about attracting elite international talent to D.C., and you've seen over the last several years of course there have been several elite talents that have gone to L.A. and New York, and now we even see some going to more smaller markets like Vancouver and Montreal and Portland, and -- excuse me -- D.C. to date has not been able to attract an elite international brand-name talent, and I'm curious to know what the impressions are of Coach Olsen and Mr. Payne why that has not happened to date. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIIt seems like a plan.
PAYNEWell, we worked very hard on this actually a couple of years ago, and we came within a hair's breadth of bringing in a player that I think would have been the most influential player in the history of the league, a player named Juan Sebastian Veron. I can't even express to you how close that deal got. He put money down on a house in McLean. His wife had picked out stables for her daughter who rides horses. Everything was done, and then he was begged by the elected officials and the supporters of his boyhood club Estudiantes to remain in Argentina, and decided to do that.
PAYNEWe had Marcelo Gallardo who certainly is a world-class player, a far more accomplished player than any of the guys in the north -- Pacific Northwest. He was injured unfortunately, became worse during his time with us, and so it only lasted a year. We have to -- you have to find the right fit I think, and that's something that Ben and Dave Kasper and the coaches spend a lot of time looking. I think that next year we will be looking there again, but you have to get it right, and there's been more misses than makes in this area in our league.
OLSENI think that's the important statement. There's been a lot more misses than makes, and, you know, we've been close and we've had talks with some players that would have worked, and we were sure of, but they just didn't pan out for one reason or the other. So that player will come, and he'll be a part of this club, and he will take us to the next level. It's just the timing of it has to be right, and we can't rush it. It's got to be the right choice, so we're not looking back on it.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. Ben, this week, Washington Post soccer reporter Steve Goff had an interesting profile of Bill Hamid, who is a practicing Muslim. Hamid is trying to balance his observance of Ramadan, which requires that that he abstain from food and water during the daytime with his responsibilities to the team. It must be very difficult in the context of 90-degree days and practices five days a week. How is working out for him?
OLSENWell, we make sure he's in daily contact with our trainers, and our nutritionalist, and all these things just to make sure he's being smart about it. You can't do it -- you cannot go train in this heat with these demands that we're putting on him, and not have nutrition in your body. I absolutely respect what he's doing, and I think it's great, but I think we've all talked it out and we're finding a good balance. We've had this over the years, it's been reported in all sports around this time of year, and I think what you're seeing is they're finding a good balance of still fasting, but still making sure they can go through their job and not let down the team. So it is a fine balance, and ultimately it's up to Bill in how he deals with it.
NNAMDIAnd he and a number of Olympic athletes are going through the same thing...
NNAMDI..even as we speak. Earlier, Kevin brought up the Dutch Club Ajax, or Ajax it's pronounced, a team that has built a global reputation as a developer of talent. A few years ago, the New York Times had a very interesting profile of Ajax. It drew a distinction between the way young prospects come up in Europe and here in the U.S. and Europe they're plucked up very young. They go through an intensive training regimen that explicitly does not include a lot of matches.
NNAMDIIn the U.S., promising kids join traveling leagues, the play many more games, and they are often more injury prone because of that wear and tear. Have our training methods changed at all?
PAYNEWell, we're trying to change them. The youth soccer culture in America grew up from the bottom up, not from the top down, which is the case in most other countries, and the focus has been on winning games. That's how parents tend to measure their kids' soccer experience. In many cases it's because the parents don't have a lot of soccer experience, so they don't know how else to measure it. Look, I'll just give you some statistics. In the last 25 years there's been more -- we've had more registered youth soccer players than any country in the world, and we have yet to produce a truly world class player.
PAYNEWe've never produced a player who's played for one of the absolute top clubs in the world in Barcelona, a Manchester United, a Real Madrid. You look a country like Uruguay, which right now has arguably five or six of the best players in the world at their position. Uruguay has a population of three million people. That's fewer people than live in the D.C. area., and yet they can -- they are able to produce great players. Holland is a country of I think 16 million players -- or people, and they continually produce -- every single generation they produce multiples of world class players who are on those biggest clubs.
PAYNEWe have to -- we can either assume that American players just don't have what it takes, which is not a valid assumption, because in every other sport, we do. We have to look at the way we're training them, and that's what we're trying to do right now. I actually chair a committee for U.S. Soccer that's spending a tremendous amount of time on this.
NNAMDIBen, talk about your experiences coming up in that system.
OLSENWell, I was in the system Kevin talked about that is an issue of why we haven't produced a world-class player yet, and it was about winning. I was very fortunate that I played a bunch of different sports, and I played tennis, basketball, I grew up doing anything I could because I loved it, and I think I was a better athlete for that, and I think that's why ultimately I had some success in this league. I understood different aspects of other sports which helped me ultimately with the game of soccer.
OLSENNow, if you just go through soccer and you didn't have the benefits of basketball and these other sports, I think sometimes you're lacking something, and if you just do that in the American system without the coaching, the proper coaching, I think we're going to continue to lack, but Kevin and U.S. soccer is doing a great job in putting a lot of money and time into fixing that, and I have no doubt that in the near future we'll be doing it in the right way.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Ben Olsen is the manager of DC United. He played for the club from 1998 to 2009, and represented the U.S. national team in the 2000 Olympics and 2006 World Cup. Ben Olsen, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
NNAMDIKevin Payne is president and CEO of DC United, which by the way will be taking on the Columbus Crew Saturday evening at 7:30. Kevin Payne, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
PAYNEKojo, great to be on the air.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. See you soon, Dwayne. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.